Hi, my name is Tom and I’m a Disneyana eBayoholic. A recovering Disneyana eBayoholic. For years, I had multiple, complex saved searches on eBay delivering me daily results for a myriad of Disney collectibles & merchandise. The postman actually asked me once why so many packages came to our apartment. Our “roommate” was the boxes of stuff I had purchased but didn’t have the room to display. I was zealous and meticulous about my collecting to the point that I was probably a bit neurotic about it. Suffice to say, I had a problem.
Now, it wasn’t as bad as living beside a dumpster and doing heroin, but hey, a problem is a problem. I had definitely gone too far with my various Disney collections. On the plus side, once I realized I needed to downsize, my “careful” collecting resulted in substantial profits above what I had paid for the items that outperformed any sort of traditional investment. (When buying things, I often joked that I was “investing in Figment”…it turned out to be not such a joke.)
The other good news is that I’ve learned a lot about collecting Disneyana (“Disneyana” simply means Disney collectibles, in case you were wondering) and I’m going to share some of my tips & tricks for starting a Disney collection–or taking your collection to the next level–including some of my personal custom eBay searches that I’ve made and refined over the years.
The first step in this journey is figuring out what you want to collect. I would recommend making this really specific. Deciding to collect “Disney pins” or “Disney cats” is a recipe for disaster since those are such general subjects. You don’t want to become known as “that crazy cat lady”, except with collectibles. (Hey, at least too many Disneyana cats won’t make your house smell like urine…hopefully.)
What you need to remember here is that Disney makes a lot of merchandise. An incomprehensible amount. If you collected every pin Disney has ever made, I’m pretty sure you could fill a warehouse, and finding a specific pin would be about as easy as finding Rosebud or the Ark of the Covenant.
In fact, if you haven’t already gone down that rabbit hole, I’d encourage you to stay away from collecting pins altogether. While pin trading is fun, and I even have a Disney Pin Trading 101 Guide to help people have fun with it and save money by buying discount pins, there’s a huge difference between casually doing it as a diversion and a fun way to interact with Cast Members on vacation, and seriously collecting.
To me, there are simply too many pins and the collecting side of things is too competitive and over-zealous to make it fun. Plus, even though designs differ, the core product you’re collecting is the same–there’s not much variety. I’m sure pin collectors will vehemently disagree with me, but for my money, there are far better options.
What you collect, though, is obviously up to you. Things to keep in mind when starting your own collection are: how much space you have, how much money you want to spend, how practical should the collection be, how selective you want to be within your collection, and what “subjects” most interest you in the world of Disney. These are just some considerations, and I’ll illustrate them with my own collections.
Aside from my outsized Figment collection (that I am still in the process of downsizing), I have collected Country Bear Jamboree and Alien Encounter items, refillable resort mugs, Big Figs, and really any cool vintage Walt Disney World items that caught my eye. While the Figment collection was most near and dear to my heart, a lot of Figment items have been made over the years, and Figment is a really popular character among collectors, many of whom have deep pockets.
I originally approached my collection from a “completionist” perspective, wanting to have everything Figment ever made that I could get my hands on. This was a huge mistake, as I ended up spending a lot of money and devoting space to things I didn’t necessarily even like just because I wanted to have it all. (My parents collected and dealt antiques–which is far less nefarious than it might sound–when I was growing up, so I think I’m predisposed to hoarding.)
So you want to get started collecting…the first step is building your collection. There are a few ways to do this. The easiest is simply to start from scratch, slowly accumulating brand new items directly from Disney on each subsequent trip you take. If you’re collecting for fun, this is a great way to go about it because each item in your collection will be tied to memories of your vacations. It’s a nice, sentimental way to go about things.
I like that approach, but I’m also a sucker for history and vintage memorabilia. To acquire these older items, the best place to look is eBay. This is by far the easiest way to find the best selection of things that will fit into your collection. There are other online auction sites, but eBay pretty much has a stranglehold on this corner of the internet.
When it comes to eBay, I’d recommend saving custom searches and having eBay email you daily results for some of these. You can tweak these searches over time using standard Boolean rules so that you aren’t getting results about which you don’t care.
These emails will save you a lot of time, and prevent you from spending hours a day on eBay, which ultimately leads to expanding your collections and buying things you otherwise wouldn’t. I speak from experience here…I never knew I needed a Blizzard Beach Ice Gator bobblehead…until eBay plotted against me and forced me to buy one! 😉
Another great feature on eBay is the ability to search “Completed Listings.” Before you start buying anything, I’d highly recommend going through completed listings. Not only will this give you an idea of the market value of various items, but you can get a general feel for what items are common and uncommon, so you know when you can wait for a cheaper listing and when you should bid high on something (since you may not see it again anytime soon).
It’s important to know the market for the things you’re collecting so you don’t overpay. All it takes is two people who don’t know what they are doing for a bidding war to ensue over an item that’s pretty common and worth far less than the ultimate sale price. Believe me, I’ve witnessed this several times.
If you’re super into a particular type of item on eBay, you can take things to the next level and use a browser plugin like Check4Change. In the heyday of my Figment collecting, I did this with my custom Figment search, always having a tab in my browser open with this. The reason for doing this would be to spot rare Buy-It-Now items right when they are listed so you can purchase them immediately. I purchased items this way about once per month, so it’s not as uncommon of a scenario as you might think.
Outside of eBay, your options are somewhat limited. As far as the internet goes, there are sites like Etsy and Amazon, but no site even comes close to touching eBay in terms of variety or volume. Outside of the internet, you have the Disneyana Fan Club Collectibles Sale and the booths on the show floor at D23 Expo in Southern California, but those have inflated prices due to overhead, and don’t help anyone outside SoCal.
Then there are generalized things like garage sales, estate sales, auctions, and flea markets, but your chances of finding the specific things you collect are low. Visiting these types of sales are best if you’re after a variety of things (not just Disneyana) or are into buying and reselling.
Another thing you’ll want to do is determine whether you want to collect for value or simply accrue items you like for fun. Collecting for investment purposes is very difficult, and even if it’s your goal, I would strongly discourage you from viewing your collection as an investment with any value, as external variables could wipe that all away in the blink of an eye. Not only that, but transaction costs and unstable markets make it difficult to profit from buying and selling collectibles. I recommend collecting for fun, with any gains in value being unexpected gravy.
At one time, there were hundreds of members of the McDonald’s Collectors Club who would meet every year in Chicago or Ohio. As McDonald’s decreased production of interesting items, and as controversy over its food increased, membership plummeted–as did the value of the collectibles. The items that were once going to help pay for my college tuition became virtually value-less.
With that said, if you want to try your hand at collecting things that might gain value, my biggest advice aside from the obvious (buy items in mint condition, in the box or with tags, as the case may be) is to avoid items that are marketed as collectible.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but everything that’s “Limited Edition” or “Collector’s Edition” is going to be purchased by people for the express purpose of collecting and preserving. Even though fewer of these items may be produced, they are usually priced at a premium because of the LE or CE label, and there’s the assumption that these items will be valuable, so people take measures to make sure they save them.
Instead, when buying new, go for the things that no one wants. Again, counter-intuitive. For example, the above Mickey Mouse as Dreamfinder plush is bizarre at best, and nightmare fuel at worst. I’m pretty sure it quickly ended up at the outlets because no tourists wanted the thing. I purchased it for $5 in 2007. I sold it recently for over $75. Very few people had purchased it to begin with since it was so weird, so there were few of them on the secondary market for new collectors to purchase, thus driving up the market price.
Now, this is not to say you should purchase everything you see at the Disney Outlets and assume you’ll be able to retire on your profits in a few years, but checking the outlets for quirky items with collectible-potential isn’t a bad idea. The problem here is that it’s not so simple to determine what has collectible-potential. It takes a bit of knowledge–refined over time–and luck, as well.
General tips when it comes to doing this would be as follows: Avoid things marketed as collectibles (pins, Vinylmations, etc.); Avoid anything wear-able; and, look for interesting objects featuring less common characters or attractions, but ones that are commonly collected (in other words, pass on the Epcot snow globe featuring Nemo, but buy the one featuring Figment). Basically, go for the unique stuff featuring a subject that has a following among collectors and avoid everything else.
These aren’t hard and fast rules, and even following them, you’re sure to get some duds. This is merely a jumping off point for starting out–as you gain knowledge about collectibles, you’ll make and refine your own “rules” over time.
This also isn’t to say that things that are meant to be collectible won’t increase in value. As a general rule when it comes to Disneyana, the first in a series of anything will increase in value, as will things that are unique and popular. An example of the former would be the first in a series of Vinylmations: these are meant to be collected and were from the get-go, but the early ones are still typically the most valuable.
The latter is more difficult to pinpoint. My best example is the Figment and Dreamfinder Walt Disney Classics Collection figure (above). We purchased this the year it came out (it was the second in the series–the first goes for ridiculous amounts now) and we bought literally the last one, and that was 8 months after the line had been released.
The collectors who bought these typically hold onto them (like other collectors, I cherish this, and it’s one piece I’ll never sell) so on the rare occasion when they hit eBay, they go for double or triple the original cost. I assume this is in large part because Dreamfinder has seen a resurgence in popularity since the release of this figure.
Anticipating trends like this with collectibles is incredibly difficult, but when it comes to Disneyana, you can pretty much always bank on nostalgia. Limited edition collectibles featuring Dreamfinder, Figment, Mr. Toad, Big Al, or any other known characters from sentimental favorites or extinct attractions you can bet will increase in value so long as the limited edition items aren’t in product lines that are over-saturated. Common characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are obviously more popular, but there is simply so much merchandise produced for these characters that it’s tough for any single item to stand out.
Other limited edition items are likely to appreciate in value, but there are no guarantees. If you purchase an LE 2000 figurine for $250, but there are only 1,867 people on earth who would be willing to pay $250 for that particular figure, chances are you will sell it at a loss if you do sell it. Anticipating future supply and demand is incredibly difficult when you’re buying new items.
One final thing with regard to collecting as an investment: don’t be a jerk. Buying 20 of a particular limited edition item and immediately flipping those items on eBay is not “collecting,” it’s selfish arbitrage. Yes, this is America, and yes, we have a market economy. Irrespective of that, think long and hard about what you’re adding to the world before doing crap like this.
I know this is already a lot to digest, and I fear some of this is a 400-level course, rather than Disneyana Collecting 101. I’ll refine this over time if there are common questions or if people seem genuinely interested in learning more about collecting Disneyana.